My new friends

This is a rough time of year for our lambs; not only have most gone through the weaning process (the rest will this Saturday), but this is also one of the worst times of year for internal parasites and flies. It must seem like they are under attack from all sides — quite literally, from inside and out!

I am carefully watching and trying to limit their exposure. They will not develop resistance or resilience in the face of internal parasites unless challenged by them. Yet if the challenge is too great, we face loss of life. I want them to be challenged, but I must control the onslaught; some is good, but too much can be fatal.

I watch the flock carefully to monitor which lambs need deworming and which are able to handle the load for a longer period — or continue to handle it without a dose of dewormer. If their digestive system begins to break down because of a heavy parasite load, dewormer is not enough. I must also trim the soiled wool from around their tails to prevent the second attack: flies. This month and next are the peak of fly season in Iowa, and soiled wool is quite the attractant! Flies will lay eggs in this wool, and when they hatch out, the maggots will eat away at the lamb, devouring it alive from the back end forwards. If I can get the wet and soiled wool trimmed away, the remaining stubble quickly dries after deworming and the flies are kept at bay. My visits to the flock are a constant cycle of checking, catching, deworming, trimming, sometimes recoating, and then soaking the rump of the lamb with fly spray. Oh, and then recording which lambs were treated that day for later inclusion into our computer records.

I have noticed over the years that this is the point when most of the lambs begin to see me as the evil ogre who comes twice a day to catch unsuspecting little lambs and do unspeakably nasty things to them with scissors, towels, nasty-tasting liquids, and other paraphernalia. When released, they run for their lives, seldom looking back for fear that I’m again behind them. It’s not a role I enjoy, but I know what will happen if I don’t take this role seriously. With time, my capture techniques have gotten better, and I have become more determined than ever to catch my intended victims. But I so wish it were not necessary. After these intensive weeks, it will take months to rebuild the trust in their shepherdess that most lambs have lost.

Yet there are always a very few who somehow continue to see me as trustworthy — and I cannot imagine why, after all that I must do to them at this time of year, these few have such a different vision of me. This year, I have two very different lambs, Pierson and Sweet Pea, who have worked their way into my heart. And although I nearly always make our flock decisions based on merit, this year I was happy that we found room for these two.

Pierson is the daughter of our ewe Kaylen and our ram Muldoon. Both are nice enough sheep, with Kaylen known for her lovely fleeces and Muldoon for his strong, very correct conformation and unusual pattern. Yet neither of their lambs displayed what I hoped the genetics would produce: a very dark fleece. As I struggled to make our own flock decisions a month or so ago, both of Kaylen’s girls made the cut for breeding stock, but neither were in line to join our own flock. There are just too many lambs and not enough open slots, and nothing in these girls stood out as necessary for my flock.

Yet Pierson had her own plan, it seems. Shortly after weaning, she began to follow me through the pasture as I made my rounds. After a few days, I realized that she wasn’t only following me but was also coming to me at other times when I was in the field. She was the same girl who always came running to the gate when I arrived on the four-wheeler and was there at my side when I refilled the creep feed. Pretty much anything I did was done with Pierson at my side, and when we were finished, she would stand next to me for chin scratches until I had to leave. My heart melted, and I began to check her files to see whether there was any reason I didn’t want her to join our flock. In the end I decided that such trust in a young flock member overshadowed the fact that she would pass spotting to every one of her lambs. And so Pierson was put onto our “keeper list.” My new friend now has a stable home — and likely many more chin scratches in her future!

Wednesday’s blog will have a listing of the other ewe lambs who will be staying this year — and I’ll share the story of Sweet Pea, the other lamb who especially won my heart and, thereby, a place on the list.


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  • Erika says:

    It’s nice to be able to keep friends!
    Could you talk about which dewormers you use and how you make the choice of which specific wormer when and on which sheep?

    • Dee says:

      Definitely – although probably the best information on the topic of deworming comes from the American Consortium for Small Ruminant Parasite Control. This is one field in which new information is constantly available and unless we have a problem here, I am not always up to date with the latest and greatest. I will describe what we do in blog in the near future – but our program is a multi-pronged attack that involves intelligent pasture rotation, focused deworming of only those who need it, and careful monitoring of the flock in peak parasite periods. More to come soon!

  • Erika says:

    We have taken FAMACHA course and do all of that. But what I really want to know is how you figure out the exact wormer to use. Do you rotate types yearly? Choose depending on severity of worm load? Can’t wait to hear about what you do!

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